Darmstadt, August 18, 2020

Remote Commissioning Possible, During COVID-19 Lockdown

As the world continues the fight against coronavirus individuals and businesses are finding ways to carry on. For some individuals that means staying sane during lockdown, for others it means finding childcare and trying not to spread infection whilst still working in the frontline of our hospitals. The same can be said of business.

Some have no choice but to source Government aid to stay afloat whilst others must carry on providing or manufacturing food, medical equipment, construction materials and other essential supplies and services.

At first glance, the production of detergent may not seem to be essential but, the Coronavirus should certainly change that mindset – when did you last wash your hands? Demand for detergent and other cleaning products has rocketed and for one of our regular customers the manufacture of this essential product MUST continue.

Long before anyone had heard of COVID-19 our customer, a producer of many household products, placed an order with Schenck Process, to increase the production capacity of their detergent line. This involved upgrading an existing ProPhase pneumatic conveying system from a capacity of 13TPH to 25TPH. The project itself was complex as it involved the customer dismantling and then reassembling the existing system with new parts sent from the UK.

Additional complexity was introduced as a new version of the standard software was required in order to remove the usual outlet valve together with the addition of a remote diverter valve. Any risk in this approach was to be mitigated by the fact that, as usual, a Schenck Process UK commissioning engineer would attend site to inspect and commission the pneumatic system.

Commissioning of the system had been planned for 23/3/20, but a week before this date the coronavirus started to take hold in Europe and all flights were cancelled. Within a few days the United Kingdom had been put into “lock down”. In anticipation of these events a PROXiQ router was sent out to the customer, to allow Schenck Process to remotely assist the customer during very pressurised circumstances.

Once connected to the internet, PROXiQ™ can provide remote access to the Pneumatic system’s PHASiQ™ control panel, from anywhere in the world. The PROXiQ router was positioned inside the pump mounted PHASiQ™ control panel. Schenck Process engineers, who were in lock down and working from home, were therefore able to connect remotely to the PHASiQ™ controller and its HMI (visual interface), allowing for the remote commissioning to take place.

Overcoming challenges was still possible, while a lastminute change to the software, meant that the latest version of HMI and PLC software had to be downloaded via the remote link.
Conversations were conducted over Skype whilst in ‘real-time’ the commissioning engineers using the JMobile VNC client were able to view the PHASiQ™ controller HMI remotely.

WhatsApp also played its part as engineers on site moved around the system relaying photographs and information back to the UK engineers.

The remote connection to the HMI allowed the commissioning engineer to configure, test and optimize the system from their own place of work during the coronavirus – the home office.

Regular online meetings were conducted with the customer’s onsite team. Over several days the team were able to safely perform, mechanical and electrical checks before dry and wet commissioning was carried out.

The very last steps were to analyse the process trends to ensure the system was performing to specification and then to capture the unique project parameter set in order to store it securely on the UK server.

The originally intended use of the PROXiQ router had been to provide rapid remote diagnosis of problems and optimisation of systems by enabling access to the numerous process trends and log files that PHASiQ™ automatically stores. Connecting the PROXiQ router is a lot quicker and cheaper than flying an engineer to site with the added bonus of carbon footprint reduction.

Most high value systems are now supplied with a PROXiQ router. Many customers are nervous of this external connection but for remote speedy support from expert engineers, it is, perhaps more sensible to have it and unplug it when not in use, then not have it at all.
So, is this what commissioning looks like in the future?

Possibly, but it is worth noting that this approach may not always be desirable due to the complexity of systems. Safety is a big factor, making it essential to have high levels of competency on site as well as expertise in the office.

One thing is certain, with or without COVID-19 remote access will play a bigger part in supporting our customers and unlocking the benefits of the advanced controller for Pneumatic systems – the PHASiQ™.